The View from Bolton St.

“I tried hard to have a father, but instead I had a Dad.” Nirvana, Serve the Servants

 

One of my most ridiculous memories from childhood is, after a big argument with my parents, I stormed up to my room. I cranked up my Dad’s old boom box he let me use, with the CD he gave me money for, in the room he never made me clean, and blasted the second verse of Nirvana’s ‘Serve the Servants’ where Kurt Cobain yells “I Tried hard to have a father but instead I had a Dad.”

 

I sure showed him.

 

Fortunately my dad and I were able to repair our relationship (or at least that little spat) in short order, but that memory came to mind recently because I was reminded again that I am ‘A Father+ and a Dad’ and that the parent role should always come first.

 

You see last week was busier than usual, and after spending the entire day working at Festival on the Hill I still had a fair amount of work to get my sermon where I wanted it to be for Sunday morning. I started working on it after we got the kids to bed and then suddenly one of our kids came down in tears because they were so stuffed up they couldn’t sleep, and only needed ‘Daddy’.  

 

I could take care either of the sermon or my kid.  So,I took care of our kid and let God take care of the sermon.  I was not happy with the sermon, but I was glad I spent most of the night cuddling a sick child.*

 

Why, you might ask? One of the Anglican Church Fathers, Jeremy Taylor writes in his “Guide to Holy Living”:

 

“For it is great folly to heap up much wealth for our children, and not to take care concerning the children for whom we get it: it is as if a man should take more care about his shoe than about his foot.”

 

That between work and family, family should always come first.  Which means, and this is no surprise to anyone who been responsible for someone else’s care no matter the age or relation that your work can suffer.  That people will think less of you professionally when you make the right choices personally and spiritually. I am grateful to be part of a congregation here that tries to understand this, and I hope that I can continue to internalize it and continue to make it true for myself.

 

But Taylor’s words are not just for parents or caregivers!

 

Here is his advice for how to handle our free time:

 

”Let all the intervals or void spaces of time be employed in prayers, reading, meditating, works of nature, recreation, charity, friendliness and neighborhood,...to begin and end the day with God.”   

 

Sometimes the most significant and holy act we can engage in is to stop what we are doing and be a friend to someone.  To say that ‘our relationship is more important than what I’m doing.’  That to care for your neighbor, through time, conversation, companionship,  is a kind of prayer, it is how we can spend the day with God. Even more so when a friend is in need.  In the book of Job, when Job is at his lowest his three friends show up and the first thing they do is just sit in silence with him for seven days. SEVEN DAYS. Just sitting there. Could you imagine all the things you’d miss?!?

 

But what scripture reminds us is that those things you would miss, maybe don’t really matter. Because what matters most is deepening our connection to God and to each other.  And especially in an increasingly disconnected world - where we would rather re-watch a TV show than read the Bible, or text on our phone than visit a friend, relationships with God and with each other matter a whole lot.

 

Life is busy right now for many of us.  And life at the parish is busy too. But Church work is still ‘work’ and sometimes other things, be they health, family or spirituality, get in the way. And that is okay.  We would do well to remember Jesus’ words to Mary and Martha ‘Mary has chosen the better part’ and it will not be taken from her.

 

This week I hope you too will choose the better part.

 

*You may be, of course, tempted to ask ‘where was Monica?’ She was sleeping, having been up with sick children the night before.  But really the question shouldn’t be asked. We are both parents, both share in the responsibilities of raising our kids and both have careers and passions that pull us in the opposite direction sometimes.  I’m grateful to have a partner in life that supports what God calls me to do and that reminds me that God also calls me home. 

The View from Bolton St.

Love Your Enemies: No Really, Love your Enemies.

Jesus is famous for a lot of things, but his message of ‘Love Your Enemies’ maybe one of his most quoted.

And his most ignored. Let’s face it, Christians are pretty good a loving our neighbors most of the time. We are good at loving the poor, the outcast. Most of us are pretty good about loving the foreigner, and even the prisoner. We might struggle with loving the sinner but even that we do a good portion of the time.

But loving our enemies? NOT a strong suit. In fact this is when most Mainline Christians turn evangelical and start saying things like ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ because we just can’t accept this most simple and yet most radical of Jesus’ commandments: Love your enemies.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45)

Christians in the public square were challenged again by Jesus’ commandment this past week when Comedian and Talk Show host Ellen DeGeneres was seen laughing and having fun with former President George W. Bush (see background story here). There were, of course, many political criticisms of Ellen, especially the weekend before the Supreme Court was to take up multiple cases on the rights of LGBT People here in the United States. This is a challenging and painful moment, and the hurt and fear are very real.

But I was most disappointed in the responses from fellow Christians who were just as harsh if not harsher. There should be no quarter for this former President.

And I remember how quickly we are to forget Jesus’ most difficult commandment.

But very few of us get the chance to sit down with former presidents. And while we may be blustery on line, the likelihood is we would all fall in line because that’s what social norms dictate when you are in those situations.

But how do we act around our actual enemies? While I recognize that Memorial’s congregation is diverse politically, the fact of the matter is most of the people reading this would consider the current President of the United States an Enemy. And they would consider most people who voted for him enemies as well.

And it’s also true that we live in a city where drugs and violence will kill more than 1000 people this year. That is the biggest, omnipresent enemy in our life right now.

And we have wisely Understood that the enemy is not drug dealers, or users, or neighbors afraid to call the police - but that the enemy is the drug trade itself. A bigger than us poorer and principality, a larger than life demon that is destroying lives, families and communities.

And we do what we can to fight THAT enemy while loving as best we can those harmed by it.

So why can’t we do the same in our current political moment? Why can’t we see nationalism and authoritarianism for the drug that it is? Why can’t we see White supremacy for the evil it is and fight THAT while loving as best we can those caught up in it?

I do not much care how you feel about Ellen and W. It’s a 30 second sound byte. A blip on the radar.

But I do care how you think about those people who think and act and vote differently than you do, and how seriously you and I and all of us take the challenge seriously to love them, even as we fight against the hate and division we feel those political leaders represent.

Love your enemies. No really. Love. Your. Enemies.

The View from Bolton St.

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people! 

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations! 

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal. 

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks.


These words from the book of Lamentations are in reference to Jerusalem 2,500 years ago, but just as soon be about Baltimore today.  With a population almost half of what it was a few decades ago, with increasing numbers of vacant homes, schools with declining enrollment and employers and investors threatening to move out of the city, we find ourselves more and more like a ‘vassal state’ - seemingly dependent on outside influences, outside donors, outside founders to get anything done. 


In the current debate about ‘Squeege kids’ this is front and center. The primary concern of our political leaders is not ‘whats best for Baltimore’ or ‘whats best for our kids’ or even ‘what’s best for our communities?’ But rather ‘How can we keep county commenters happy? County shoppers and diners happy?’ This ‘politics of scarcity’ is terrible and infectious. 


By infectious I mean we can similarly find ourselves feeling like we ‘aren’t enough’, that we can’t do it on our own, that we have been abandoned by God.  We find ourselves waiting. Sitting. Immobile. Unable or unwilling to do anything for ourselves until ‘someone else’ comes with a solution. 


In the Gospel this week we are promised that if we have ‘faith the size of a mustard seed’ anything is possible.  This seems unbelievable of course. Personally I’ve never tried to move a mountain or cast a mulberry tree into the sea, mostly because I’m afraid what it would say about me! 


But I have seen amazing things happen in unlikely places, with unlikely people.  The Samaritan Community grew out of two people saying ‘we’ve got to be able to help these folks coming to the church for food.’  And 40 years later they are a vital part of this community. 


Perhaps it is time for another vision? What if Memorial were to say ‘we’ve got to do something to employ these kids on the corner?’ Or ‘we’ve got to do something to reduce violence in our community?’ What if some local churches joined together to confront these efforts... and DIDN’T WAIT FOR A SAVIOR OR A FUNDER FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE TO DO IT FOR US. 


We are reminded by Saints ancient and modern that we are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.  We have all we need right in front of us.  We need to get rid of the politics of scarcity and embrace a theology of abundance, and trust that with faith in God, and embracing God’s vision for our community that those things we need will fall in place just in time.


This is true for our city, our community, our parish, and ourselves — Put yourself out there and see what happens. 

The View from Bolton St.

“Yesterday was a very busy month” - Someone on Twitter

 

For those who are politically or socially engaged, the last few years have been exhausting. And there are particular days that feel like they take weeks or years of our lives.  With yesterday’s announcement of the beginning of impeachment inquiries, the next few months are likely to feel like a very long decade.  And the ranges of responses to yesterdays news bear that out - from jubilation to speculation to wariness to weariness to frustration to anger. We are extremely divided. And those divisions are creating deeper fissures among people who usually can, should and do work together and support each other.  If you’ve noticed organizations, advocates, and leaders who used to work together suddenly attacking each other, you know this is true.

 

But there is another emotion that seems to be bubbling up, and on which there is universal agreement.  Inevitability.

 

No matter where one is on the political spectrum this moment has seemed inevitable.  The President was always going to be impeached. If you were a democrat, it was only a matter of time before he did something so egregious there was no other option. If you were a Trump supporting republican the democrats have just been waiting for this since day one. If you are a centrist, a middle of the road liberal or a ‘never-Trump’ Republican; this was the only outcome with a President who eschewed any notions of tradition or standards and an establishment that thrived on them. We all knew this was coming.

 

And here we are. Divided. Conflicted. Apart. Exactly where we thought we would be.

 

This is exactly the kind of moment that Jesus enters into; the kind of moment where Jesus thrives.

 

Somewhere around 30 AD, Jesus walked into a divided and conflicted Palestine. A Roman territory with political ‘leadership’ that didn’t want to be there, religious leaders trying to hold on to legitimacy, and rising inequality and discontent.  The division, discord and disunion was getting worse and worse. conflict seemed inevitable.

 

But encounters with the divine have a funny way of changing us. And Jesus was able to bring together tax collectors and fishermen, Saints and sinners, prophets and rich men, Pharisees and Sadducees and sex workers and highway robbers... who all came together and saw themselves not as a divided society but as a unified body of Christ. The 12 and the 70 and the hundreds sent out into the world to preach and teach, to cast out demons, to bring hope to the hopeless and to give voice to the voiceless.

 

Of course there were those who didn’t like this.  Loud, angry voices who trafficked in division. Who celebrated discord. Who thrived on disunion.  These powers and principalities, these voices of the dark kept sowing hate and distrust. And they did it until it got Jesus killed.

 

The consequences of course were drastic. Shortly after the region was engulfed in war. And by the year 70 the temple was destroyed, the Jewish people were forced into exile, and it would be a few hundred years before remnant Jewish and Christian communities could come back together to rebuild their own identities and to begin again building a Kingdom of God here on Earth. 

 

I write this morning to remind us all that those powers are still alive and well. Those principalities that seek to keep us alone and scared and divided are still active and powerful. 

 

Don’t let them kill Jesus again.

 

Don’t let them kill your spirit.

Here in Baltimore City we have diverse coalitions working to make our city better. Here in Maryland we have diverse people across the political spectrum committed to adequately funding education and repairing and restoring our environment, and we are privileged to have two leaders in that effort - David Hornbeck and Dick Williams, here at Memorial.  And we can also dream of similar coalitions across our country — of black and white, rich and poor, democrat and republican and other, of hispanic and Asian, of immigrant and citizen, of First Nations and everyone else, looking past that which divides us to restore dignity, respect and above all hope to the office of President and to our national politics in general.

 

“So what can I do?” You might ask?

 

First, don’t assume everyone is against you.  That Trump voting gun hugging cousin of yours may also be tired on the never-ending conflict and discord and wishes there was a better way forward.

 

Second, don’t demand repentance. The people you might be most frustrated with are not likely to ever say ‘hey I’m sorry I said that terrible thing about your favorite candidate’ - but they are liable to seek out relationship with you, and maybe reconciliation is better than repentance anyway? After all don’t we as Christians believe we are all unworthy of forgiveness? And yet God forgives us anyway.

 

Finally, put the news down. Call your friends. Have a coffee. A drink. Talk about the weather. The Pastor’s terrible sermon. The Ravens. Strengthen those intimate connections so that you too don’t become divided. Widen your circle and make new friends. And let your friends know that your love and care is not dependent on adherence to any particular ideology.

 

To get through this moment, to get through most moments, we need Jesus coalitions. Tax collectors and sinners. Pharisees and Zealots. Slave and Free. Jew and Gentile. Black and White. You and Me.

 

Let’s be the Jesus Movement.

The View from Bolton St.

“Retreat!”

 

It is clearly a leftover from my childhood, but whenever I hear ‘Retreat’ I think of King Arthur and his knights in Monty Python when they are ‘Running Away’ from the Castle. Its certainly an odd phrase, right? especially because in our context we use ‘A Retreat’ to plan how we will advance, not to turn around and go back. 

 

This week Memorial’s staff gathered for our beginning of the year program retreat - to reflect on where we are as a staff, to get to know each other better, and to begin to plan out for the next year.

 

After introductions we began by crafting a ‘Momentary Mission Statement’ — Not a permanent mission statement, or even a temporary one, but just a statement that would guide our conversation that day.

 

And we did this by first listing of words that came to mind when we think of Memorial, and then words that came to mind when we think of God. And wherever there was crossover we circled and bolded those words and that became our focus. 

 

Those words were things like Love, Community,  Acceptance, Timelessness, Challenge, Unique and of course, Fun. That to me sounds a lot like God and I hope it sounds a lot like Memorial Episcopal Church to you.

 

This exercise was both fun AND empowering - and is a small example of what we will be doing October 18-20th for our Parish Retreat. So I hope you will sign up TODAY if you haven’t already for what will be a really great weekend. 

 

There were two big take-aways from this week’s staff retreat; the first is that we should take the success of last week’s 1619 event as an example and try to do fewer events but with more focus, planning, communication and execution.  We don’t need to do everything, but the things we do do, we should do well.

 

The second is that our staff and volunteers could use a little more grace.  We are a busy place with a lot of things going on and a lot fo competing demands for attention.  And our staff are busy people who we ask a lot of.   But we shouldn’t demand it. And we shouldn’t take our frustrations out on staff when things don’t go well.

 

I am really proud of our current staff team.  They are big believers in the Mission and Ministry of Memorial, and they have genuine affection for this place and for all of you, as I do.  So lets ensure we reciprocate that affection by offering gratitude, thanksgiving, and acknowledging the things that our staff and volunteers do well all the time. 

 

This week in the Gospel we have the parable of the dishonest manager. And among other things it is a reminder that they way things work ‘out there’ in the world, are not always things that we should replicate ‘in here’ in the Church.  It is my hope that whoever you are at Memorial - volunteer or staff, new hire or rector, first time attender or Church Warden, that you see yourself first and foremost as a Child of God, and that you encounter everyone else the same way as well.

 

I am very excited for this year. Unlike the knights from ‘Monty Python’ I am not running away, but looking forward to moving ahead with our staff, volunteers and all of you as we build a better church, better community and better example of Jesus’ grace in our corner of Baltimore. 

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The View from Bolton Street

Good Grief

 

Today as a community we are coming to terms with two very different kinds of losses.  On a national level we are marking the 18th Anniversary of September 11th; a painful and complicated day that holds starkly different memories for all of us. And we also are just becoming aware of the loss of Evelyn Fitzgerald, a long time member and staff member at Memorial, often the first face many of us saw when we came here for the first time and a constant source of joy and hope: both because of her infectious smile and because of the many ways we have seen her struggle through and overcome multiple bouts with cancer and brain tumors in her time with us.  Her death seems unbelievable in part because of all she has overcome before.

 

Which makes today a particularly good day to reflect on grief and what ‘Good Grief’ looks like. You see we live in a culture that does not embrace grief.  In fact we often shun grief, hide from it, run from it.  When someone dies the first thing we are told is to ‘calm down, breathe, don’t make a scene’ so that you can go to the hospital or morgue. It is not uncommon to see a grieving loved one pulled away from the scene of an accident because they are ‘getting in the way.’  We are instructed almost immediately to ‘get it together’, so we can deal with the business of death. Even our public theology often eschews death — ‘It was part of God’s plan’, ‘I guess God needed an angel’, ‘God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.’

 

We almost say to each other that our grief is an affront to God, a challenge to God and that God knows better.

 

That friends, is bad grief.  And Bad grief leads to all kinds of bad outcomes down the road. 

 

If we don’t allow ourselves to grieve. To slow down. To take time away and process the loss, the hurt, the trauma and the heart ache; we just end up expressing those emotions in other ways.

 

As a nation that may look like a vengeful war in an entirely different country resulting in more than 4,000 U.S. deaths, 30k+ injured and more than 200,000 Iraqi casualties. In a city it can look like a spiraling murder rate and overdose rate and a hands off police department.  In a family it can look like any number of things - violence, separation, estrangement, anger, divorce, hate, hurt. 

 

Grief is holy. Grief is necessary. Grief is Godly.

 

And the alternative can be hell. 

 

Friends whatever your connection to the events of today, practice some good grief.  Take a step back from your daily routine.  Remember the joyful moments that Evelyn or others brought you, put words to the feelings you have - maybe even put pen to paper and offer up some words of your own shame, guilt, worry, hurt, or loss. Reach out to someone who you have hurt or who you are just distant from because of your own grief. 

 

Eat.

 

Cry.

 

Rest.

 

There is a reason that our natural impulses during a time of grief are the same as the most basic desires of a child; because grief naturally draws us close to our Father and our Mother, to God in God’s self. And if we take time to indulge the natural pull of God’s love inward, we can begin to grieve well. To love well. And to heal well.

 

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,

   and rescues them from all their troubles.

The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,

   and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:17-18

 

1619: A Community Discussion

Sunday, September 15th — Jazz Brunch and Conversation around the 1619 Project.

Join Memorial Episcopal Church, the Bolton Hill Social Action Task Force for a Brunch and Community Conversation to discuss and reflect on the 1619 project. A panel of experts including Dr. Christopher Bonner from the University of Maryland, Dr. Rob Helfenbein from Loyola University and Jennie Williams, A PhD candidate from Johns Hopkins will lead a discussion on the 1619 project, what it means for the study of history, for future students, and for us locally here in Baltimore.

The event will begin at noon with a jazz trio and brunch, followed by a poetry reading from Lady Brion, one of baltimore’s Local artistic treasures, who will also have copies of her book on hand to sell. Lady Brion will be followed by the panel, and there will of course be time for questions from the community.

There is no charge for the event, but contributions will be taken to support the Pennsylvania Ave Arts and Entertainment District.

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Parish- Wide Retreat October 18th- 20th

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Pearlstone Center Retreat

October 18th - 20th

Parish- Wide Retreat at Pearlstone Center

Hello Memorialites! From time to time, it is good for a faith community to take some time to gather together, pray, play, share and dream about what the future might hold.

You are invited to a Parish-Wide retreat October 18-20.

This is open to ALL OF YOU - but space is limited so sign up early.

The retreat includes lodging, meals, snacks and refreshments.

We will be at The Pearlstone Center an excellent retreat center in Carroll County with lots of activities for folks of all ages. Accommodations are air conditioned and accessible. Food is vegetarian/vegan friendly.

Retreat FOCUS...

  1. To bring new and long-time memorial members together to learn and meet each other

  2. To identify new leaders for ministries and committees

  3. To cast a broad vision for the future of our parish in the context of the Kingdom of God and 21st century Baltimore.

Retreat COST:

Individual:

$150 per person for two nights lodging and 5 meals

Sign-up Now!

Family:

$400 per family for two night and 5 meals

Sign-up Now!

If you would like to attend but do not have the means please contact the church office for scholarship assistance or for more information.

The View From Bolton St.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

I admit it. These days I am distracted by many things. From xenophobic and hateful comments from the president, to the indefinite detention of migrant children, to the violence and murder in Baltimore city, even down to the inherent chaotic and busy nature of having two small children. I am a Martha among Martha’s, these days.

And honestly, why shouldn’t I be? How can I NOT feel pain at how people are being treated? How can I not be upset at the indifference to the chaos on our borders, the intentional pain being caused border patrol agents and government administrators, the existence and persistence of two Baltimore’s, and the seemingly worsening inequality in our city, in our community?

Does Jesus really want me to NOT CARE about those things?

I hope not. And I hope that you care, and continue to stay invested in the lives of the needy, the lost, the foreigner, the prisoner, the widow and the orphan.

BUT. Jesus doesn’t want you to get lost in those things either. My own passion and desire to make the world better does not come from any belief that I PERSONALLY can impact this world — but faith in the knowledge that Jesus desires a better way for all of us, and calls each of us to play a role in that. Jesus does not call us to worry and stress about many

things - but to focus on the one thing - Making his Kingdom a reality here on earth.

Instead of seeking to go to and fro ‘doing justice’ and wearing yourself out — perhaps you should consider only one movement, to the foot of Jesus. To offer prayers for justice and for equity. And to invite others to that same space with you. To make Jesus the center of that work. To make Jesus the center of your life.

And as you leave that you take Justice with you - so that whether you are protesting DHS detentions, re-sanctify sacred spaces in Baltimore, working for press freedoms, providing health care for the needy, or being a part of our making our justice system more just — you do so with Jesus at your side, and a community of love behind you. A Community represented by Memorial, by the Episcopal Church, and by the whole Church around the world.


Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:

a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; 
a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; 
a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect; 
a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord.